Advocates of the Month August 2012

Marcella Truppa

Marcella Truppa currently lives in Cranford, New Jersey. Marcella became involved in self-advocacy over 20 years ago through her membership at Community Access Unlimited (CAU). Sid Katz, a founding father of self-advocacy at CAU, encouraged Marcella to join Helping Hands Self-Advocacy Group during one of his frequent visits to the programs. When Marcella first joined Helping Hands, she was elected as Recording Secretary. Although she maintained that role for quite some time, Marcella became the 2nd Vice President of Helping Hands in 2011. Through her various roles in Helping Hands, Marcella has had the opportunity to attend many regional and national conferences sponsored by state-wide advocacy organizations. Marcella also loves being involved in self-advocacy because she likes to attend meetings, participate in applicable events and most importantly, help people find their voice.

Recalling her childhood, Marcella said, “People shouldn’t be bullied on buses. I had a lot of negative experiences riding the bus when I was younger as it caused me to stop riding the bus altogether. There were many times where I was pushed off the bus and one time, I had to call the cops”. Experiences such as Marcella’s are all too familiar in the disability community and are typically coupled with being called the “R-word”. With that in mind, Marcella has participated in DD Awareness Day in 2011, which is sponsored by the New Jersey Council on Developmental Disabilities, whose main campaign is to end the usage of the “R-word”.

To highlight some of Marcella’s past accomplishments, she has received a Star Award from CAU and various Helping Hands awards for being a diligent advocate. Marcella recently graduated from the New Jersey Council on Developmental Disabilities’ 2012-2013 Partners in Policymaking program, which is an advanced training program for self-advocates in state. Although Marcella is a seasoned advocate, she enjoys continuing her education about the functions of government, and learning of new strategies to increase her effectiveness as a self-advocate.

Vailene Fields

Vailene Fields currently lives in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Vailene has been involved in Jumpstart, a consulting firm for self-advocates sponsored through CAU, for the last few years. Vailene is passionate about promoting the concept of self-determination as it relates to her expertise, in which she conducts workshops such as “Couples and Relationships” and “Married with Children – An Advocates Point of View”. Before she began serving as a consultant for Jumpstart, Vailene started a women’s group at CAU in which she spoke on a variety of topics such as personal hygiene, how to protect yourself from violence and tips for being an effective communicator. Most recently, Vailene was hired as a Self-Advocacy Field Coordinator for the New American Movement for People with Disabilities! The New American Movement is excited to have Vailene on our team.

Some of the sub-topics that Vailene discusses in her workshops as a consultant for Jumpstart is the “cool, hot and cold” and “happy home” concept. Vailene explained that these concepts cover how a person with a disability can meet someone and maintain a healthy, happy relationship. In order to better meet the needs of her audience, Vailene distributes questionnaires for participants to complete before she begins each presentation. In regards to her knowledge and experience on having a disability and being married with children, Vailene, along with other members of CAU, typically discusses the pros and cons of this life choice. She accentuates the need for children for a person with a disability as it can enhance a person’s life. Furthermore, she discusses tips as to how a person with a disability can avoid stress when raising a child, and caters her recommendations based on the degrees of ability displayed in her audience.

When she is not serving as a mentor for the disability community, Vailene works as a lunch aid/teacher’s assistant for School No. 2 on Madison Avenue in Elizabeth, NJ. Vailene is actively involved in a local human rights committee that meets in Elizabeth every other month. The committee’s purpose is to dissect local issues and create strategies to solve these problems. Although Vailene is not always able to attend Helping Hands meetings due to her busy schedule, she is still adamant about advocating for disability rights. To exemplify her commitment, Vailene provided astounding leadership for a project completed by Jumpstart a few years ago, in which self-advocates protested for sidewalks in Elizabeth, NJ to be refurbished as well as creating wider entrances for stores. The self-advocates executed this protest by measuring doors of identified stores that did not appear to be accessible as well as determining if the doors were too heavy for people with disabilities.

Lastly, Vailene believes in increasing voter participation for people with disabilities. She has demonstrated this interest by participating in voter registration drives to provide assistance to CAU members at the polls. Vailene takes pride in her endeavors, and truly enjoys giving advice to others in order to improve the quality of their life. Vailene’s favorite quote is, “Don’t look at me as a person with disability; look at me as a person reaching for success.”

Ali Littman

Ali Littman currently resides in Elizabeth, NJ. Ali is a newcomer to the Community Access Unlimited family as she has only been a member since March 2012. As a means to help her transition to her new home and community, a particular staff has encouraged Ali to get involved in recreational events and the self-advocacy movement. To ease the fear of the unknown, Ali has been regularly attending Boy Scout meetings in which members engage in self-reflection activities and serve as a mentor for one another. This has allowed Ali interact with other self-advocates, such as CAU’s pioneer advocates Sid Katz and Gary Rubin, and has ultimately encouraged her to attend Helping Hands meetings.

In order to infiltrate her into the movement, Ali has also been accepted for the 2012-2013 Partners in Policymaking program, sponsored through the NJCDD. Ali was actually encouraged by the New American Movement for People with Disabilities to apply for this program, and we’re happy she was accepted as NAM seeks to build relationships with younger self-advocates as they are the future of the movement. Ali is excited as she enjoys helping others and wants to learn how to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.

Although Ali has not begun her formal workshops and trainings, she still exhibits self-advocacy skills on a daily basis. For instance, Ali said that she always makes it a point to find out what she is entitled to in terms of insurance. She also likes to schedule her own doctor appointments as a means to vestige her independence. Ali believes that it’s hard for staff to accept how self-sufficient she is as she doesn’t always get praise for her accomplishments. Self-advocacy is exactly what Ali needs to feel empowered as she will learn how to effectively display that attitude to others.

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